I joined an impressively large crowd at SAP’s World Tour event in Birmingham,UK, last week and was able to spend an hour with Tim Noble, head of SAP’s UK and Ireland business unit, and Chris McLain, who leads SAP’s team focusing on its 150 largest accounts in EMEA. I'm writing an update of my 2007 report "Effective SAP Pricing And Licensing Negotiation" and wanted to know what they thought about the clash between traditional deal-based sales incentives and Forrester’s clients’ need for commercial flexibility and more recognition, by their key software providers, of the wider relationship. It’s a topic I’ve raised before (http://blogs.forrester.com/duncan_jones/10-03-19-open_letter_season_sap), and I was very pleased to hear some things that SAP is doing to reduce this conflict.
I explained why, from my research, software vendors’ insatiable craving for recognizable license revenue at the expense of creating shared incentives for success is damaging to customers and to the vendor. Both Tim and Chris clearly understand the problem. Tim keeps reps on the same accounts for several years and rewards them for metrics such as customer satisfaction to avoid the revolving door sell-and-run approach that characterized software selling before the advent of SaaS. Chris has a team of Global Account Directors that works with local sales, pre-sales, and delivery teams to provide the holistic view that Forrester clients want and struggle to get from SAP’s competitors.
Here at the European half of SAP’s global customer event, I had a chance to ask some questions of one of SAP’s co-CEOs, Jim Hagemann Snabe. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to ask for some advice to my country’s leaders on how to manage a two-party government, because it seems like he and Bill McDermott are very happy with their own coalition.
It's very encouraging that Hagemann Snabe, along with other SAP executives I’ve met here, acknowledge that SAP has made missteps over the last year or so, although they are still very confident that they know how to fix the company’s problems. There’s a thin line between positive spin and misplaced over-confidence, so hopefully, in private, he recognizes the challenges he faces. Still, I’d like to see more willingness to accept that SAP doesn’t have all the answers and to get advice from outside the organisation, to help it become customer-centric instead of sales-transaction-centric
Both CEOs want to talk only about new revenue opportunities: increasing SAP’s addressable market, the potential of new on demand products including Business ByDesign, and mobile solutions based on the proposed Sybase acquisition. I asked Hagemann Snabe to explain how he’d improve the value for money that existing customers will get for their maintenance revenue. He mentioned the introduction of customer choice between the Enterprise and Standard support offerings, although that isn’t much of a choice since CPI increases on the latter make it cost almost as much as the former. He also stressed the importance of the ‘Innovation without disruption’ enhancement pack system, which will now be delivered in one simultaneous release each year, across all product lines.
Recently two large software companies separately complained that I was biased against them in the other one’s favour, which was sufficiently ironic to amuse my British sense of humour. “Biased” is one of the worst accusations you can throw at an analyst, because we strive to be scrupulously fair, and ensure that what we write and say is balanced, and evidence-based. So it started me thinking about fairness, and prejudice versus analysis.
I hear a lot of horror stories from clients about outrageous treatment by software sales reps, so one might think that software marketing execs would be shame-faced and contrite. But, actually, they love their companies and believe that analysts are merely stoking up resentment that wouldn’t exist without us, or that it’s the other guys giving their industry a bad name. “You only hear from the minority of unhappy customers,” they say. “Clients don’t ring you up when they are delighted with us.” This is true, but I speak with hundreds of clients every year, so I think I’d have found more evidence of a silent majority of delighted buyers, if it existed. The problem is that the good corporate intentions don't always translate into sales' behavior, when it's a question of spiff or rif.
Microsoft announced on Friday that it will stop selling new Select licenses from 1 July, 2011. Customers with existing agreements can renew them for another 36 months, as per their agreements, but the replacement Select Plus program is likely to be a better option. Microsoft launched Select Plus on 1 July 2008, and I wrote at the time that it was an improvement on the basic Select structure: Microsoft Simplifies Its Volume Licensing.
However, Microsoft's pricing team struggled to persuade its LARs to promote Select Plus over the more familiar Select agreement, and customer adoption was disappointing. So the decision to drop the older program makes sense for Microsoft, because it will force its channel partners to embrace the new model. And its no bad thing for buyers - you've one less choice to make, and there's little negative impact.
The biggest advantage of Select Plus for sourcing managers is that they no longer need to submit a three-year spending forecast - this is extremely difficult for central teams buying on behalf of autonomous business units that won't havent planned Microsoft technology adoption that far out. Instead, pricing works like an airline loyalty program, on the current and previous years' actual transactions, as the figure below from my report illustrates. My report explains some more advantages, such as the flexibility to opt tactically for software assurance on individual purchases.
Hopefully you’ve all read SAP’s co-CEO’s open letter to you (http://ceos.blogs-sap.com), and also some of the great responses such as this one: http://bit.ly/b5foPD . With all these open letters flying around, I thought I’d write a slightly different one. Unlike most of my fellow commentators, I’m not going to tell SAP how to run its business. Instead, I’m going to give you, its customers, a suggestion on how you can cut the cost of your SAP environment. You ready? The answer is “buy less stuff from them”.
Actually, it is not as facile as it sounds. Many companies that I speak with automatically favour their incumbent vendors for new projects, while their IT vendor managers complain to me about their negotiation impotence. You won’t be able to get the contractual protection you need, such as limits on CPI maintenance increases, unless you make them a condition of future purchases. Large software companies such as IBM, Oracle and SAP focus predominantly on license sales. It wasn’t customers’ unhappiness, resulting from the Enterprise Support blunder, that caused SAP to fire its CEO and rethink its approach. It was the fact that you showed that unhappiness by voting with your purchase orders, delaying projects, going to competing vendors, and causing SAP’s license revenue to plummet. When Jim and Bill promise to “accelerate the pace of the innovation we deliver to you”, the d word is a euphemism for ‘sell’.